By Archana Sharma
As winter nears, sightings of vultures with tiny transmitters on their backs in the desert state often raise curiosity among people, but their questions are met with complete silence from the officials concerned.
According to environmentalists, vultures displaying a tiny gadget over their back feeding over the carcass of livestock has become a common sight here.
These tiny objects are satellite transmitters fixed in the birds' home range in Kazakhstan. These emit beep-signals which are relayed by the satellite and picked up by scientists in remote areas.
One of these species are Egyptian vultures, which were fitted with transmitters in Karatau mountains in Kazakhstan a few weeks ago. They covered a distance of 1,923 km., to reach Jorbeer, an arid plain land used as municipal dump, about ten kilometers south-east of Bikaner in Rajasthan. The area is declared as a 'Conservation Reserve' by the state's forest department, as per them.
The experiment on the species is part of an ongoing project undertaken by the Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network. Dau Lal Bohra, an independent researcher serving as lecturer in a private college in Rajasthan, joined the team to gain know-how of transmitter application called as "tagging."
About 15 Egyptian vultures were tagged in Karatau mountains to learn about the nature of migration, ascertain their path, duration of their stay and the place of their return. The experiment revealed that the said vulture is a resident species in India ie., it breeds within the country, and that its overseas population too reached India.
To the surprise of many, the officials remained tight-lipped about the entire exercise.
Expressing his displeasure over absence of measures for the study of these feathered creatures, environmentalist Harsh Vardhan said, "Despite the country having continued MoUs and new agreements on several new fronts, why is the Centre not taking any initiative for wildlife centric understanding with overseas experts and their governments?.
He pointed out that tagging and monitoring of migratory wild species is considered as a tedious and labour oriented task by forest officials who prefer to stay put in the comforts of their offices. Can they not enroll private experts under their wings? The Indian Government did announce a five year plan (2020-25) for Vulture Conservation but unfortunately, Rajasthan was excluded.
Since the Centre has done precious little in this regard, the private hands continue to experiment with wild species and details remain non-existent in the Government quarters, he said.
Total count of vultures at Jorbeer presently can be a thousand. These include Red-headed Vulture (single or two), Egyptian Vulture (200+), Indian Vulture (less than a 100), White-rumped Vulture (less than 20), Cinereous Vulture (about 10), Eurasian Griffon (a few hundred), Himalayan Vulture, earlier called as Himalayan Griffon (a few hundred).
While Eurasian Griffon reaches from Europe, the Cinereous comes from Mongolia. They reach annually to this nondescript area and return to their breeding grounds by the end of winter.
Vultures play a significant role in ecology as they consume dead bodies to act as cleansing-agents in nature. They faced the most severe decline in their population over the past 25 years across India. The first mortalities were reported from Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan.
Meanwhile, Dr Vibhu Prakash holds an outstanding distinction of having established a Vulture Breeding Centre at Pinjore, Haryana, about fifteen years ago. He has bred Indian vulture as well as White-rumped Vulture in captive conditions and also released some in the wild. It is a Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change supported facility administered by Bombay Natural History Society. (SJ/IANS)